The world of interior design is rich in history and important moments in time, which continue to inspire to this day. I love to look to the past to find inspiration for the current. How can we build upon what has been set before us by past industry leaders, and how can we morph that inspiration into something new and exciting? At time’s it feels like everything has already been done, and yet with each project I become re-energized with new ideas, new products and new materials to use. One of my favorite designer’s to look to when I’m dealing with a creative block is the legendary Edith Wharton (1862-1937).
Edith was born into a society and family that made it difficult to break through the “glass ceiling,” and yet she persevered. Her adolescence was marked with the main purpose of finding a “proper” marriage (which she eventually did, although in an unlikely pairing). Wharton would become one of America’s greatest writers (penning The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, The House of Mirth and many others), gaining the first Pulitzer Prize as a woman. In 1897, after moving from New York City to Newport, RI, Wharton co-authored the legendary book The Decoration of Houses. Step into any designers library and they are sure to have a copy!
In 1901, Wharton bought 113-acres in Lenox, Massachusetts, where she designed and built The Mount. Throwing herself into the home, she created a world-famous garden and interior. To this day, visitors roam the landscape and home, hoping to find inspiration. Every aspect of the estate—including its gardens, architecture, and interior design—evoke the spirit of its creator. Wharton wrote, “I am amazed at the success of my efforts. Decidedly, I’m a better landscape gardener than novelist, and this place, every line of which is my own work, far surpasses The House of Mirth…”
The Whartons sold The Mount in 1911, and later divorced in 1913 after issues surrounding Teddy’s mental health. Edith moved permanently to France, and only returned to the US twice, once to collect her Honorary Doctorate from Yale. Edith threw herself into the Francophile lifestyle and immersed herself in living in France throughout World War I, despite having the wealth to move elsewhere. Devoting herself to charitable and humanitarian organizations, Edith also established workrooms for unemployed seamstresses, convalescent homes for tuberculosis sufferers, hostels for refugees, and schools for children fleeing war-torn Belgium. She was one of only a few writers allowed on the front lines, and in 1916 she received the French Legion of Honor for her war work.
When the war ended, Edith moved from Paris to Pavillon Colombe, a villa in St.Brice-sous-Forêt. In addition, she acquired the Château Ste.-Claire, a restored convent in the south of France. She split her time between these homes for the remainder of her life, where she continued her creative pursuits of writing and design, as well as her charitable endevours.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this short history lesson on such an admirable woman!
Images courtesy of https://www.edithwharton.org